119 (Northgate – Beachmont)

In my last post, I visited Beachmont and found a hidden gem of a neighborhood. Besides marking one more station off my list, I decided in going there that it’d give me a great reason to ride the 119, what with the ability to make a connection with my home route(s) near its opposite end. Little did I know that this route was as much of a hidden gem as one of its terminals.

The 119 begins in earnest right outside Beachmont’s entrance, at a stop which unwittingly says “Beachmont” which may be confusing to outsiders as it refers more to the neighborhood to the east as it does the station along the Blue Line. Heading along Winthrop Avenue, it goes into the Beachmont neighborhood which is made mostly of single family houses, relatively unspectacular by most accounts. That is until the end of Winthrop Avenue in which the 119 meets a very picturesque view of the water, wrapping around from Winthrop to Revere Beach. The view might rival the 439 on its approach to Nahant though it’s closeness doesn’t have the fear of the SL2’s stretch paralleling the waterfront.

From there, the 119 works its way in a loop around Beachmont until returning to Bennington Street where briefly parallels the Blue Line as it decends to the surface before turning back on Winthrop Avenue, ducking under the tracks again. After passing the Suffolk Downs stables, the rear entrance to Suffolk Downs plaza, and an abandoned Shaw’s, it works its way through more residental areas before reaching Revere Center for a brief stretch down Broadway. After that, more of the fun begins, as the 119 goes through several neighborhoods as it winds northward and westward, the most prominent being the Cooledge Housing community. While on this stretch, some turns and roads being a tight fit for a 40′ bus; though not as out there as some of the more rural routes in the Commonwealth such as the FRTA and BRTA out west, it’s still out there by MBTA standards.

Eventually, the 119 works its way onto Malden Street and to Linden Square and having some reason to go the Stop & Shop there, I press the button to get off. I then pass thinking that the 119 will make a right onto Squire Road/MA 60. This is false as it does a quick loop around Linden Square, briefly entering and exiting Malden in the process and as anyone who’s navigated that area knows, it gets jammed quickly and it took us a good five minutes to get to the “main stop for said Stop & Shop (and Showcase Cinemas across the street). I then got off knowing that the 119 only makes a couple more stops until the currently-in-transition Northgate Shopping Center. Though there isn’t much that would get me there anytime soon outside of the view and maybe one of those roast beef sandwiches, the 119 is a route worth riding.

Route: 119 (Northgate-Beachmont)
Rating (1-10): 8

Ridership: About six of us boarded for the Beachmont loop, replacing six who got off and a few that stayed on.. Those who missed the bus walked either up to Bennington Street or down Winthrop Avenue to board the bus and by the time we passed the abandoned Shaw’s, we had a good load of around 20, topping off at 30 by Revere Center. Blue Line passengers were heading home, those who got on en route were headed to either Linden or Northgate. 12 people remained when I got off while a couple got on.

Pros: The Beachmont loop is one of the more underrated scenic stretches on the MBTA. It’s also an important cross-Revere link that links West Revere and Beachmont to Revere Center and it’s fairly well patronized.

Cons: Poor midday and night service (70 minute headways with one bus), no weekend night service, and a late Sunday start are downsides. Even if the loop is omitted during those hours, it’d be something for those going across Revere.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Neither has a website, but Beachmont Roast Beef and Toretta’s bakery seem from my limited interaction with both legit, old-school places with great food.

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459 (Salem Depot-Downtown Crossing EXPRESS)

As I mentioned in my rant about MBTA line bias, my entire summer has been an overworked, underemployed blur in which I entered a heavy rut which distilled my riding to about six different routes/modes. I needed a ride to get me out of the rut of academic writing about stuff like economic embargoes (and stuff that matters like counseling to help families of children with disabilities and illnesses adapt to their new lives). Our proverbial slumpbuster in this case, a route I might not think about otherwise, is the 459, a route semi-unique among the North Shore routes which should be a model of sorts.

The 459 is one of two express routes stretching from Salem Depot into Boston, this one of the most part paralleling the 455 from its origin to Bell Circle in Revere going around Salem’s east side via Lafayette Street and Loring Avenue past the Salem State University campus into Swampscott. After reaching Vinnin Square, the heart of Swampscott’s business district, it transitions onto Essex Street which becomes Union Street in Lynn. Meeting the nuculus of North Shore routes at Central Square, it goes around Lynn Common and eventually passes by West Lynn garage. It is shortly after this I join in.

My ride began at the sole stop the 459 (and 450[W]/455) have in Saugus, the stop located at the corner of Western Turnpike/MA 107 and Ballard Street. Heading towards Lynn, it’s a typical stop but heading towards Revere/Boston riders get an old makeshift cinderblock shelter which a reader referred to as a “rape hut”. I know the nature of that area is very industrial and at that point MA 107 is a divided four-lane road but no shelter would’ve been better than that monstrosity because even on a bright sunny day it looks foreboding. Luckily a bus came right as I arrived, about 2/3 full which is par for the course for midday express runs from the North Shore.

Leaving that bleak shelter, the 459 eventually follows MA 107 to its end at Brown Circle, then MA 60 to its end at Bell Circle where it uses the center bypass lane to get on MA 1A and the route becomes dominated by a big box complex, Suffolk Downs, and a lot of services geared towards persons headed to/from Logan Airport largely that of the offsite parking nature. This sets the tone for one of two main discharge points for the 459, Logan’s Terminal C where about half the bus got off. After going through the Ted Williams Tunnel and a few stops on the Waterfront, the 459 ends with a stop near South Station and a couple of street stops before its end at Federal and Franklin streets alongside most of the 500-series express buses bound for points west and the limited rush hour service of the 448/449 from Marblehead which parallel the 459 from Bell Circle on south. The rest of the bus used either the South Station stop or the Downtown Crossing terminus.

With headways on average of every 70 minutes or so from AM rush to PM rush (a measure so that resources are limited) and a run time of around that length, on paper the 459 would seem to be like a throwaway to toss a bone for the North Shore crowd to get to Logan and to have an alternative to Haymarket. In fact, the route has a lot of potential, if not for itself for the whole 400-series as a whole.

  • Even with the North Shore express network pared down, there is a “Haymarket or Bust” mindset which puts one transfer point among others. The 459 shows a market for a North Shore to South Station connection, what harm would running the 426/450 down Atlantic Ave to terminate at the Dorchester Ave/Summer Street stand the 459 uses? With the Waterfront booming, this cuts a four-seat ride to two seats.
  • Running some 426/450 peak runs via the Ted Williams Tunnel could work as a relief valve for their regular crossings.
  • Soon enough the whole North Shore network is going to get semi-isolated on the weekends when Government Center closes to be rebuilt making the Blue Line an eunuch connecting to only one other line. Weekend 459 service would be a good alternate especially given how it hits all the key spots in the heart of Boston (then again, so would running the 426W to Malden or Wellington instead of Wonderland).

The 459 is a nice little route and some lessons could be learned from it, problem is does anyone want to learn those lessons especially as the North Shore enters a state of transit flux.

Route: 459 (Salem Depot-Downtown Crossing EXPRESS)
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: As in the local portion headways are coordinated with the 459, there probably is a healthy amount of ridership between Salem/Lynn and points in-between. By the time I got on, there was a crowd which was 95% bound for Logan or Downtown with Brown Circle the other destination. As with any North Shore route, a good socioeconomic mix too and the Logan crowd was an even split between travelers and workers.

Pros: It’s a North Shore route that doesn’t go to Haymarket! It’s one of the few non-Silver Line routes that serves Logan. What else is there?

Cons: Outside of the 426 and 450, the North Shore express routes are a bit of an afterthought and though this isn’t as bad as thrice-daily 428 or the once-daily 434, this could use a little more service. How it could be divided especially since other routes could use service to its terminus would be a big problem.

 Nearby and Noteworthy: Heading inbound, there’s one of the few standard format “Entering Boston” signs and leading into Logan you can actually see the top of Airport station (which at 9 already needs some new top windows). Not much else in terms of stuff and I need some reason to give the 455 a ride someday.

428 (Oaklandvale-Haymarket EXPRESS)

(Before I start: This review sat as a spare for months – the original ride was last December. Why trot it out now? Happy Birthday @BostonUrbEx who grew up near the 428 and challenged me for months to ride).

Living in Saugus and working in Burlington, my (wife and I’s) current commute involves lots of avoiding traffic on Route 128 by trying to get on as late into the route as possible. Our back way through Saugus and Wakefield involves driving past the 428 during its limited service, seeing buses of commuters varying in fullness heading to or from Haymarket.

The 428 is a variant of the 426 which runs three round trips a day heading inbound in the morning and outbound at night which runs alongside the 426 on Lynn St. Revere/Lincoln Ave. Saugus from roughly Lawrence Street in Revere to Winter Street in Saugus. In fact, years ago the 428’s runs were numbered 426 even though the two diverge pretty far from each other with the 428 ending at Wakefield High School contrary to the outbound terminal being still named “Oaklandvale” for the western Saugus neighborhood. To get the idea of this route, come along with me for the ride and brave the scads of high schoolers at Wakefield High.

Starting at Wakefield High with a terminal stop on the right side of the street, the 428 snakes through the school’s parking lot before heading down Farm Street. Though it gives parts of Wakefield an alternative to the Haverhill Line and 136/137 to Orange Line, there are only a couple of stops in Wakefield and often a bus running ahead of schedule will layover at the former Oaklandvale terminal right across the Wakefield/Saugus line. The scenery in this area is very not New England with erratic sidewalks but very wide shoulders which sort’ve fill the gap and still allow for stops to go in. Farm Street switches to Main Street and a bit into Saugus the surroundings turn more normal, the stops more regular, and the ridership more regular. From personal observations, by the time the 428 reaches Lynn Fells Parkway there can be a little as 10 riders to as much as 25 on any given day depending on run. Save for a couple of strip malls at that intersection, the 428 passes through solely residential areas.

After crossing Route 1, the 428 ends up taking Main Street to its end at the Saugus Center rotary where it then goes down Central Street for a brief period (paralleling the 430) until turning onto Winter Street where it passes by a cemetery and more houses until meeting Lincoln Ave. A little down the street from this was when I boarded. Last inbound run of the day, five people besides me already on. Nobody else boarded on the joint portion as the 428’s runs are smushed between a 426 and the inbound-only 426W runs. As opposed to said 426 which often has a full seated load and 426W which is usually ¾ full, the 428 in contrast was downright serene. Outside of Cliftondale Square and the Quarrystone apartments which straddle the Revere/Malden line, nobody else got on.

Right after the Quarrystone complex, the 428 does its second major diversion to serve the Granada Highlands complex in Malden which has four different stops shared with the 411 running to Malden Center and Wonderland. At these four stops, the 428 gained six other passengers while seven more passed it by. Though this may have been a byproduct of it being the last run of the day which is a close call for anyone needing to be at work by 9:00, it made me wonder about if the 428’s biggest problem may actually be its schedule. Coming out of Lawrence Street, the 428 rejoins the 426 for the rest of its route heading into Boston. The outbound route has some differences, namely the 428 staying on Route 1 until the Lynn Street exit and in turn not serving Linden Square as it does inbound.

The very limited service nature of the 428 means that it often is a target of service cuts and its limited daily ridership almost guarantees itself a place on any Doomsday cuts list though I think the route needs some TLC to help it improve greatly. Readjusting the times so most ridership isn’t funneled into one run would help a ton for a quick fix while another may be to refocus the routes. I propose three alternatives, both of which would break up the 428 as currently is.

  • Proposal 1: Extend the outbound terminal to Wakefield Station via North Ave/Nahant Rd. Take Route 1 from Main Street to Lynn Street, then serve Granada Highlands, then to current route. 2-3 426 runs a day could be detoured via Winter, Central, and Hamilton Streets to serve Saugus Center.
  • Proposal 2: The current 428 transitions terminates at Square One Mall and runs via Saugus Center. The Saugus-Wakefield service is turned into a new route running from Wakefield Station to Square One to Melrose to Malden Station with instant transfers during rush hour. This would allow for off-peak service on the Wakefield-Saugus portion.
  • Proposal 3: Proposal 1 sans Granada Highlands service with no stops between Haymarket and Square One.

Someday I’ll do a series on how to fix the mess of bus service in Saugus/Wakefield/Melrose. Someday.

Route: 428 (Oaklandvale-Haymarket EXPRESS)
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: Regular and dedicated, most of the time. Given the alternatives of an often arduous trip via the 430 or park-and-riding it from Wakefield or Melrose Highlands, this route has a core who don’t want to deal with higher MBCR fares, potential parking shortages at Wakefield, or a bizarre parking situation period in Melrose.

Pros: It’s the main transit link for most of north/western Saugus and it provides a one-seat ride to Boston otherwise unavailable. That and at least it isn’t like the 170 or the 434 which have “blink-and-you-miss-it” qualities.

Cons: Three round trips a day isn’t enough which might hinder ridership. Putting even a couple of midday runs and another rush hour round-trip would stimulate ridership a ton and this a route which is good enough to be turned into something great.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Suggesting anything along the 428-exclusive portion is going to be rough given that one would either need to find the 429/430 to get home or call a cab to Oak Grove. That said, the only J. Pace and Son outside of Boston is along the 428-only portion and comes with a small diner attached and soon a banquet hall in the back. Otherwise, Fatfingers inside a strip mall at Lynn Fells Parkway. That extension into Wakefield looks mighty good about now…

71 (Watertown Square-Harvard)

As of the time of this writing (May 3, 2013), Watertown is exactly two week removed from the most intense day of its 383 years of existence and its international day in the sun for better or worse. Aside from bombers in boats, Watertown is known for one of four things:

1: It’s place in the Amenian dispora in the United States (1/4 of Watertown’s population is of Armenian origin or decent).
2: The Watertown and Arsenal malls, though seen worldwide as a police staging area. The former has a Target, the latter has the iconic scoreboard from the old Boston Garden.
3: The home to NESN’s studios where sports-related magic and the occassional misery (Dan Duquette Jr’s “NESN Nation” segments) originates.
4: The 71, one of the MBTA’s three trackless trolley routes originates.

For the focus of this article, let’s focus on the 71 which I recently rode not even 18 hours after said bomber was found in said boat. Starting at its terminal loop at Watertown Square, it takes a straightforward route down Mount Auburn Avenue straight through to the Harvard Bus Tunnel. Having boarded at Watertown Square before, I decided to take a challenge and walk up the street to the Starbucks inside an obvious former Friendly’s to see how Watertownians were holding up. Save for a couple of journalists with cameras getting footage, you wouldn’t have thought you were on a town which less than 24 hours before was in lockdown.

Getting on the 71, you start to see the heart of Watertown being the sleepy suburb it usually is. A mix of small businesses and houses which are indicitive of Watertown’s past as a streetcar suburb. There are also a smattering of churches, at least two of which have had their buildings converted to condos. In contrast to the heavily commercialized district on Route 20 to its south, it is very, very quaint even in contrast to the slightly more commerercial 73. Eventually, the two join each other for their joint run through Cambridge, boardered for much of the initial stretch by Mount Auburn Cemetery with a few exceptions, namely Mount Auburn Hosptial and the interchange with Memorial Drive with its very old exit signs. The home stretch is mostly residential save for some office buildings near Harvard Square.

Trackless routes are always a treat and for that alone, the 71 is worth the ride even if there isn’t as much “stuff” as its sister the 73. Still a good route to ride

Route: 71 (Watertown Square-Harvard)
Rating (1-10): 8

Ridership: Heading inbound, most people ride through to Harvard with the two biggest stops otherwise being the aforementioned Mount Auburn Hospital and the Shaw’s Star Market across the Cambridge Line (with beer/wine/liquor!). Riding outbound has the same patterns, most board at Harvard or those two and ride straight through to their destination.

Pros: Trolleybuses are rare and you should ride them. At least here the poles don’t come off the wire regularly and a driver won’t crush your pinkie toe as a driver on the SEPTA 66 accidentally did to me once. Bonus points to the billboard raising awareness of the Armenian Genocide which often gets swept under the rug for political reasons.

Cons: Outside of showing some slight bias to the 73 – fording the intersection of routes 16 and 20 can be a pain sometimes – I wonder why stringing a few hundred feet of wire across the Charles to Watertown Yard can’t be done. Not to complain about a 2 minute walk, but wouldn’t it make sense to consolidate to one terminal?
Dishonorable mention: Who knew there would be diesel buses running on the trackless routes on a Saturday afternoon? The day I rode there were two running on the 71 and one on the 72 laying over outside Harvard.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The Deluxe Town Diner is a Watertown landmark which is a very good example of a 1940s vintage diner and has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

57 (Kenmore-Watertown Yard)

I had originally begun writing a draft about a review for the 57 a couple of months ago and that review would’ve been centered on a trip I took 3.5 years ago. Now that Watertown, for reasons better or worse, has had its day in the global sun, I mulled re-posting that review but instead decided to re-ride the route and rewrite this review.

On my original trip, I got on at Watertown Yard after a ride on the 71, walking across the by-then-narrow Charles from Watertown Square. After the commercial strip from Watertown to Newton Corner, the 57’s route goes through some pretty residential areas until it hits Oak Square in Brighton where it becomes more commerical before reaching Brighton Avenue in Allston and eventually meeting Comm Ave at Packard’s Corner. I ended up bailing at Pleasant Street at the sight of the then-brand-new Raising Cane’s being miffed that they’d be open so north and having never been.

Fast forward to the present and for a launching point I decided to start where I ended years ago and do the trip in reverse. After a few minutes of waiting, the 57 showed up with a half-full load which made its way down Comm Ave from Kenmore, often racing the B in the process. The overlap of the two modes goes for another half-mile before splitting and following its trolley predecessor. Along the Brighton Ave stretch of the 57, you can notice the former center median where the A run and you can wonder “is this really progress replacing trains with a bunch of granite, grass, and the occasional flower?” If you examine the A up until Union Square, I assure you you’ll shake your head at how short-sighted the MBTA was to walk away from a route which still thrived sans rail and that it’d give additional capacity for the BU portion of the route.

As Allston blends into Brighton, the pace slows and you see the quaint streetcar suburb which formed around the now 57 with a quaint main street dotted with restaurants, small shops, and an assortment of dwellings. With the length of the route, you may also wonder how generations before who had the the then-A kept their sanity commuting to and from Boston given the frequent stops. After Oak Square in the heart of Brighton (terminus of the rush-hour 57A short-turn and express bus service), the 57 eventually blends into northern Newton and has more of the same charm with the added liability that they’re the main reason why the A was left to die.

At Newton Corner, the 57 avoids the time-consuming loop the express buses make and continues straight into nearby Watertown. Getting off at Watertown Yard, you see the abandoned track leads still embedded in the pavement and you may mull if the right thing was done with the predecessor of the bus you just rode. Odds are, unless you’re headed to Newtown Centre, Needham, or Dedham, you’re walking across the river to see how great preservation can be.

Route: 57 (Kenmore-Watertown Yard via Brighton Ave)
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: The pre-2007 service pattern of limited stop service on Comm Ave (pickup-only outbound, discharge-only inbound) still seems to linger as very few people get on inbound/get off outbound in the shared portion. Those getting on before are bound for western Allston, Brighton, or Watertown and those heading inbound will just stay on until Kenmore. There’s some local ridership too, heavily centered on those in the residential areas or Allston.

Pros: Save for portions of Brighton Avenue where the 64 and 66 also operate, the 57 is the sole bus service for a good swath of Boston and it is a key connector for an area with heavy transit use (Allston) to the rest of the system. The scenery in Brighton and Newton is also quaint New England suburban in all the right ways.

Cons: This used to be a trolley and spent a quarter-century dying on the vine for what? There are so many what-ifs on the history of this route – what if someone made trolleys for the 20+ years between the PCC’s end and the Boeing LRV’s start, what if Dukakis had political will to restore the A – that it could be a post of its own.

Nearby and Noteworthy: On Brighton Avenue, there is the wonderful Sunset Grill and Tap, along with its next door neighbor Patron’s and back on Comm Ave their sister Sunset Cantina. All three have some very off the wall menu items and have alcohol selections. I recommend reading your menu and bringing your wallet and an empty stomach because you will love any of the three.
For the sake of history, the Oak Square Dunkin’ Donuts has many pictures of the former A branch adorning its wall which sets it apart from the several other Dunks on its route.

66 (Harvard-Dudley via Allston & Brookline)

Early in this Adventure, I reviewed the 1 and harped about its crosstown time-saving abilities even in the face of its being prone to chaos and bunching (and if you’re new here, I recommend going back and reading it). Now imagine if the 1 moved a couple miles east for most of its route and gained more chaos. Then you would have the 66, the 1’s wilder and we assume younger sister.

The first time I rode the 66 was on the advice of a friend who then was at grad school at BU after getting lunch in Brighton one day several years ago. Having been an out-of-towner who stuck to the familiar and who was ready to take the B back to Park to get the Red to Harvard, at the time I wouldn’t have known of it otherwise until she suggested it to me. I walk to the corner of Brighton & Harvard Avenues and wait for the 66 to come. Coming from Dudley, it had worked its way past an Orange Line connection at Roxbury Crossing and had a whole bevy of meetings with the Green Line: the 66 parallels the E from Museum of Fine Arts to Riverway and meets the D at Brookline Village, the C at Coolidge Corner, and the B just down the street at Brighton Ave.

When it arrives, it’s packed with a heavily college student crowd with a veritable melting pot filling the balance as the diverse population of Allston can attest to. By some miracle, I got the last seat and was able to take some notice of the rest of the route including Harvard’s athletic facilities and the BU Bridge even through the throng of people made noticing hard as with any route with college-heavy ridership. As with the 1, it stops right outside Harvard station for ease of routing purposes. Since then, there has been a common debate about if the 1 or the 66 is the more chaotic route. I decided to take little study to see if the 66 was actually the more chaotic one.

In about two hours camped at the Starbucks at Coolidge Corner on a weekday with school not in session, I noticed that the average 66 ranged from ¾ full minimum to being packed to the gills maximum without any missed runs or bunching. But watching buses while trying to pursue a better life isn’t the point of this blog. Therefore, I got on a mostly full 66, took a seat, and rode for a bit. A bit less young than years earlier but still busy. Harvard Street in Brookline is a slice of charming suburbia and is worth the trip on this portion of the 66. Eventually I get off at Brookline Village while the 66 eventually works its way back into Boston and onto Huntington Ave.

Route: 66 (Harvard-Dudley via Allston & Brookline)
Rating (1-10): 7

 

Ridership: Heavily on the young side when school is in session though not prone to being a party full of the male “bro crowd” (thanks @nikkif610) and/or the female “Uggs and yogas crowd” a la the B and E. You see a decent amount of people using this as an outer transfer between branches and lines too.

Pros: Similar as the 1. Invaluable route that connects many transfer points and can link together many outer points with a one-seat ride. As one of a few north-south routes to operate in Brookline, it is also invaluable for crosstown travel in that direction versus the more covered east-west corridors.

Cons: Ridership is heavy and when schools are in session packed buses often are the norm. If someone has the idea to get more CNG artics, this route with the 1 would both be prime candidates for them.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Hidden among Harvard’s athletic complex on the south bank of the Charles is Bright Hockey Center, home to Harvard’s pair of hockey teams. While it lacks the flashiness of BC’s Conte Forum or BU’s Agannis Arena or the 100+ years of history of Northeastern’s Matthews Arena, it has its own charms including very 70’s light fixtures and curved bench-style seats. If you sit up close, you can actually hear the puck go around the dasher boards.

354 (Boston-Woburn EXPRESS)

Lately, I’ve been riding to and from work with the wife because taking transit would cost me quite a bit in time and money. Two mornings not too long ago (one the week of Christmas, the other earlier this month), she took ill and needing a way to work, I finally had a reason to ride the 354 as I work near its end and it’s the same cost with half the vehicles involved. Yes, it’s time for some Outer Express action!

The 354 is a rush-hour link between Downtown Boston and the southern half of Woburn which has seen some reductions as of late, the most recent round of service cuts cost the 354 its midday service and ended the 354’s sister the 355 which served Mishawum Road Beginning at State station, it runs on a loop which also serves Government Center and a stop adjacent to Haymarket on New Sudbury Street; on the mornings I rode outbound, the buses averaged about half-full for the penultimate morning outbound run. It then immediately crosses the Zakim Bridge on its from the North End. It stays on I-93 as it soars through Charlestown, a slice of Cambridge, and Somerville before reducing its elevation, passing by Assembly Square, and crossing into Medford. At Exit 32, the 354 briefly exits onto MA 60 to serve Medford Square, a stop that generates few if any passengers. Getting back on I-93, it leaves the highway for once and for all at Exit 36 (Montvale Ave) on the Stoneham/Woburn line where it winds through a swath of Woburn including West Cummings Park and Woburn Square before reaching Route 3 at the Five Corners intersection, following the 350 route until it ends at an office park at Van de Graff Drive in Burlington and given that about 2/3 of those who were on leaving Boston were still on when I got off, this was their probable final destination. All outbound runs leaving Boston after 6:00 PM omit this last stop and run up Route 3A to serve stops the 352 serves otherwise, this leads to some hilarious signs reading “354 Woburn” on 3A North.

My inbound trip, taken on the first PM trip, was a bit more hit-or-miss. As that run has a long deadhead from Fellsway Garage in Medford, traffic on I-93 delayed it 25 minutes on a bitter late December day. Two long delays in Woburn with packs of high school/college students headed into Boston on break trying to add money to their CharlieCards on the bus did not help matters. If an inbound bus is heavily delayed or I-93 has heavy traffic, the 354 has an option to exit at Sullivan Square and head into Boston via MA 99 and on this day this option was taken. Regardless of route, once in Boston it only makes one stop at State and Congress before beginning its outbound run. All in all, my trip arrived 45 minutes later than scheduled due on this day and I still had to backtrack towards Haymarket which led to an extra 10 minute wait.

The 354 fills a good niche but frankly it needs a lot of work because right now there are many inherent flaws.

  • The lack of an inbound stop for Haymarket and Government Center is one especially since it doesn’t correspond to the outbound pattern. A quick fix would be to stop at the Congress & Hanover stop the 4/92/93 use would be a great start but a better solution would be to put a stop under the garage at Congress & New Sudbury which would make for better transfers for all Haymarket passengers.
  • Extending the route to Burlington Mall if not the redeveloped Northwest Park development would be a good plus as it is an actual destination versus a mere terminal at an office park.
  • Most of the local portion has no other service which makes it hard to build regular ridership. I think a “local” version would help for additional base peak service and for midday and Saturday service and patching it into two nearby routes may help.
  1. Create a new route which follows the 132 from Malden to the intersection of Main and Montvale in Stoneham, then down Montvale to the current 354 local route. This wouldn’t just give Woburn extra service but would give Stoneham its elusive second bus line
  2. Building on a suggestion made in my post on the 134, make a new route which follows the 134 from Wellington to Winchester Center, then goes on Washington Street up to the current 354 route. This helps Winchester and Wellington is the better transfer point but would it really work for Winchesterites?
  • Adding a stop outside Sullivan Square would help, especially as a bail point for the Orange Line since given traffic it might be just as fast to take that versus going down to State. It seems that more often than not outbound runs make that detour anyway, why not serve it?

I should stop now…

Route: 354 (Boston-Woburn EXPRESS)
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: Heavily tilted towards commuters with some hometown riders on the local portion with most riding end to end on reverse commute runs. I’d assume traditional commute runs have more pickups on the Woburn end than the reverse.

Pros: It links areas with no other transit and the nonstop portions via I-93 are always nice especially with the huge panoramic views soaring over Sullivan Square stretching from Cambridge to Chelsea. The fact that this allows some redundancy for Woburnites to get into Boston is another plus.

Cons: The flaws mentioned above and the routing around Woburn Square heading inbound which often causes delays. More of a personal pet peeve but changing the destination/name to “Woburn-Burlington EXPRESS” would be a bit more honest to the real end of the route. Also, the late runs into Burlington scream of this route and the 352 one day being (re-)consolidated in a future round of cuts and this may not be the best thing.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Doing this for a rush hour express route with few other transit connections can be difficult since frankly most of its route through Woburn is residential and what would be of interest is near other routes and I’d like to save Medford Square for its own review. This is a route to ride for the experience more than to go anywhere.